We flew in to Dulles the night before and drove to a pre-race meal of Peking Duck at the Peking Gourmet in Falls Church where I used to live.
I left the hotel race morning at 5:30am, with the temperature at 28 degrees and the wind gusting to at least 20mph. Brutal for a now-Californian who doesn't even own a set of running tights. I hit the Beltway and got off at River Road, driving west past all the beautiful Potomac mansions and horse properties. I stopped at a Starbucks in a little strip mall about five miles off of the Beltway at 6am to get a much needed latte. I recommend this as the only available pre-race sustenance stop for those of you doing the race in the future.
As I arrived at Riley's lock (the finish area), the very helpful volunteers were handing out race applications for people to fill out in their cars to let the racers stay warm as long as possible. We piled into an unheated bus and waited for the rest of the racers until 7am or so and then drove out the 25 miles or so to Damascus Regional Park.
The racers filed out and stood out in the wicked chill with the wind gusting away, though it was a sunny, clear day. I commiserated with another racer in shorts from Florida. 115 raced surged off down a wide paved trail into the park. After a mile or so, we turned off onto a real trail. After another mile or so, there was a subtle blue marking off the right where we supposed to turn. The lead three or four guys, including Dale Reicheneder, last year's Trail Runner of the Year, continued on, missing the turnoff. Three of us behind stood there, shouting at them to come back but they didn't hear us. Now the trail was beautiful single track, if a bit flat. I felt great and now ran with the leaders for quite some time. After a couple more miles I stopped for a bio break and fell out of the lead pack of three or four guys (the cold distracted me out of my normal prerace ritual). I quickly dropped back into a trailing pack of another three guys. We ran at 7 minute pace (too fast no doubt though I felt great at the time) for another four miles. Around mile 7 Dale appeared in Santa Monica Trail Runners windbreaker and passed our group. I sped up to run with him for half a mile or so. He had apparently run three miles off course. I dropped back off of Dale and ran with the same secondary pack for a while.
Around mile nine we dropped had a to go down some rocks into a stream and back up another set of rocks. I stumbled and twisted my ankle slights but strained my knee severely, presumably the MCL I tore a few years ago. I spent the next mile hobbling slowly to the rest stop around mile 10. It was all I could do to just walk and I howled as I hobbled. At the aid station, I seriously considered begging a ride home. But I did not fly out to DC to DNF. I was planning a celebratory dinner afterwards (my favorite restaurant - the Inn at Little Washington), and I did not want to be sitting there contemplating my failure of will all evening.
Instead I begged for some ibuprofen. They only had Tylenol - which I took but I knew would not help. After chugging some Mountain Dew I limped off back down the trail (running was still out of the question). Finally a runner passed and, seeing me limping, asked if he could help. "Well some Vitamin I would be great since they didn't have it at the aid station". He produced the magic pills and I took a couple. After another half mile of limping I gingerly started hobble running. It was excruciating and I howled even louder in the empty forest. Finally I came to another aid station at mile 12. Here they actually had some Advil so I took a couple more pills. And I begged an Ace bandage off of them as well for my knee. AFter that I was able to maintain a consistent hobble run for another four miles or so.
Finally, as I ran stifflegged along a wooded ridge, signs started appearing "Sugarland Three Miles". SugarLand? What is SugarLand? We're in the middle of nowhere. What could SugarLand be? An amusement park? A strip club? A farm? "SugarLand 2 1/2 miles". Wow, thats aggressive advertising! Who came out here on the trails to advertise this? Finally after "SugarLand - 2 Miles", the signs sprouted up with increasing frequency. "Atkins Shmatkins - You Need Carbs!", "Forget Fiber - We Want Sugar!". After "Almost to Sugarland - 1 Mile" and "SugarLand - Just 13/28 Mile More", the real sell began "Fat Free Sugar!", then more improbably "Sugar Free Sugar!", "Sugar - Your Body Thanks You Now and Your Dentist Will Thank You Later", and finally "You Need Energy - Welcome to Sugarland!" as the trail opened onto a parking lot with a handful of cars parked. There were a bunch of kids at an aid station stocked with more high glycemic confections than any race I've ever seen. There were Twizzlers, M&Ms, peanut M&Ms, Girl Scout Cookies, heart shaped, candy coated marshmallows, and other treats too numerous to mention. I pounded down six TagAlongs and, more importantly, scored a couple magic ibuprofen candies. Running away from the station one last sign "Now Leaving SugarLand - InsulinLand Five Minutes Ahead".
Back on the trail it was another couple of flat wooded miles to a small water stop by the next intersection. Then the another seven miles up and down slight inclines until we emerged from the trail finally at what was mile 26 and we should have been done. Ah, but it was not to be. Instead we were told that we had "just a long two miles" to the finish. The volunteers had heard about my ibuprofen abuse and I couldn't get an additional fix out of them. On the bright side the stop was replete with chili, salted potatoes, coffee, and sodas. I pounded some more Mountain Dew and some potatoes and hobbled up the hill. The last two miles (really it seemed more like three) were quite hilly, which I would ordinarily love, but definitely exacerbated my now even more agonized knee. We emerged out onto the road across from the park where the finish and ran the last half mile on asphalt to the actual finish line.
I finished in a dreadful 5:29 (although the winner was around four hours so perhaps not as bad as I would think) and 32nd overall. Nevertheless, I was exhilarated by finishing and fighting through the pain. I felt like if I could make it through that accident I could take whatever the season has in store for me. I ate heartily at the Inn at Little Washington that evening, feeling like its exquisite cuisine was a well earned indulgence.